Saturday, December 2, 2006

I'm trying out Blogger at Earning My Turns. My goal is to test whether I can post easily from a desktop blogging application like MarsEdit without having to go through a mediator application like Radio Userland.
10:15:31 PM    

  Sunday, November 26, 2006

Down With The Two Minute Rule: Scoble writes about the two minute email rule:

I love this new two-minute rule for email from Eric Mack (delete all email that takes more than two minutes to answer)[...].

This two minute rule is the type of thing that makes me recoil in shock and give up hope for a sane future for my daughter. Shouldn't we be removing email that takes less than two minutes to answer? I feel that something that doesn't require attention to interact with is worthless - I'd rather spend my time engaged with concerns that require real thought! [...] What I think is really going on here is that for some reason email clients have never provided any real tools for content analysis and management - the market is actually wide open for some quite trivial new functionality (this is what happened with desktop search applications). (Via Data Mining).

Some of us have been doing a bit of work on tools for helping manage email. Just a beginning. I totally agree that dropping any email that needs more than 2 minutes to respond is filtering all worthwhile thought from your exchanges, maybe from your day. What I would like is a convenient way to slow down email, especially the kind of email that doesn't need much thought. For example, I'd like an adaptive delay for my outgoing replies. If an outgoing reply is delayed by 8 hours, the reply to the reply will arrive tomorrow. Of course, some replies I want to go out right away. that's why intelligence and adaptation are needed for this purpose.

7:55:05 PM    

  Sunday, October 15, 2006

Search Doesn't Work: Story 2: NLP means many things. To me it means Natural Language Processing. To others it means neurolinguistic programming. When I search for the bare term 'nlp' in Google, I just get results with the second sense - same for other search engines. If I search for 'William Cohen', the first result on Google is for my friend Prof. William Cohen and the second for the other chap. [...] So why don't I get this for NLP? Why no mixture of results? [... ] Word sense disambiguation is a core requirement for a search engine. The problem - the same text having more than on meaning - can certainly be reduced by the user. However, it seems that there is a great amount of scope that could be explored on the interface side. Google is definitely aware of the problem, which is why results for ambiguous names produce multiple sense results pages, but they (and the other major engines) are way behind systems like Vivisimo's Clusty which produces appropriate results for the NLP problem. (Via Data Mining.)

The problem is that word-sense disambiguation is hard. The Clusty results for "nlp" are a tangle. They get one "natural language" cluster in the middle of a bunch of "neuro-linguistic" clusters, and it's not easy to tease them apart. Overall, Clusty's interface is way too busy, and likely to confuse for all but the most easily disambiguated queries. For example, with my favorite query "transducer", none of the clusters on the first screen are for transducer in the sense of automata theory, even though the second search result is a Wikipedia page for that sense of transducer, while the first search result is the Wikipedia page for the electrical engineering sense of transducer.

One might expect a sense-aware search engine to exploit Wikipedia to recognize alternative senses. Clusty doesn't seem to. I don't know how Clusty works in detail, but the problem is that recognizing alternative senses seems obvious in retrospect but it is hugely difficult to do from scratch, because we don't know what information sources and similarity measures will work in general, rather than in hindsight for a particular case.

Proper name disambiguation is much easier than general disambiguation. It is defensible for a search engine to focus on a limited set of classes that can be disambiguated reliably instead of trying to do the whole job, badly.

9:55:29 PM    

  Sunday, September 17, 2006

David Brooks, Neuroendocrinologist: Having digested Leonard Sax on 'the emerging science of sex differences', David Brooks has been continuing his education in neuroscience by reading Louann Brizendine ('Is Chemistry Destiny?' 9/17/2006) (Via Language Log.)

Reading these efforts to exploit a murky scientific picture to support prejudice, I keep coming back to what seems to me a prevalent misconception about the implications of process conservation in evolution. The fact that some sex-associated process may be conserved in evolution does not mean that the process is used always in the same way, or that other processes may not be able to achieve similar outcomes. A critical insight of evo-devo is that conserved processes are loosely coupled, and have a wide operating range and outputs depending on inputs from other processes and the environment. Think of a conserved process as a subroutine. The fact that a particular subroutine is conserved between successive versions of a program does not mean that it is called by other subroutines in the same way in the different versions. Highly-conserved subroutines are those that are broadly useful, meaning that they can be used to achieve a wide range of results depending on context. Sex hormones may bias the operating points of various conserved processes, but that does not mean that the processes cannot compensate through other feedback loops to achieve effectiveness in various cognitive processes. Indeed, it would be surprising if those processes would have survived natural selection if they were so sensitive to highly variable hormonal environments. Subroutines that do not carry their weight in a wide variety of conditions stop being used and die out.

11:41:24 AM    

  Sunday, September 10, 2006

Tour route in Southern ChileFrom August 19 to September 1st, I traveled to Chile to ski and to climb some volcanos with CASA Tours. I've done three ski trips to South America in the last three years, and each had great high points, but this trip was the best so far: an exceptionally congenial, hard-charging group, great weather for climbing, mind-blowing views, superb spring skiing, and smooth travel. The map shows the core of the trip, and a photo page gives more details.
9:52:21 PM    

  Saturday, September 9, 2006

A colleague who has spent time in Scotland recommended the Edinburgh band Malinky. I just found their latest album The Unseen Hours on iTMS. Now listening to their very cool Inertia Reels. Recommended.
6:35:13 PM    

  Wednesday, August 16, 2006

EarthLink loses fiber line sharing case: Verizon and AT&T don't want to share those shiny new fiber networks they are installing. It's looking like they won't have to. [...] The FCC's vision of competition looks like cable competing with DSL, hopefully adding fiber, WiMAX, and broadband over power lines into the mix in the next couple of years. As long as consumers have viable choices, that model works. For many, real choice has yet to materialize. (Via Ars Technica.)

Case in point. I had used Covad DSL over my primary Verizon phone line, resold by local ISP DCAnet, since I moved to Philly five years ago. Recently, DCAnet decided to get out of the residential Covad resale business. I decided to switch to Speakeasy, also a Covad reseller, who many people recommended. Because of an information disconnect at DCAnet, it seemed at first that it would take a long downtime (weeks!) to switch my Covad service from DCAnet to Speakeasy, so I decided to order Speakeasy over a second phone line. To cut a long story short, Speakeasy, Covad and I wasted several weeks trying to get a working physical circuit from Verizon to no avail, even though there are no problems with my primary phone line. Eventually, an enterprising manager at Speakeasy found a way to switch my existing Covad service from DCAnet to Speakeasy without service interruption, but the whole process wasted a lot of time and effort for all involved. From where I stand, local loop competition is a joke if it only happens at the mercy of the local access oligopoly.

2:29:42 PM